Slick Swedish compact exec arrives to have its mettle tested as a daily driver
Why we’re running it: To find out if the magic touch Volvo has with its premium SUVs translates to this compact executive saloon
Life with a Volvo S60: Month 2
Relaxed ride makes for a welcome return – 26 February 2020
While I enjoyed every minute behind the wheel of a Porsche 718 Cayman T I tested recently (flatulent engine aside), I was still pleased to slide back into the Volvo. The slightly detached S60 is the antithesis of the Cayman to drive but, when facing a long drag around a clogged-up M25, the soothing Swede’s refinement and superb cabin are hard to resist.
Life with a Volvo S60: Month 1
A family trip to Jersey was the perfect chance to explore the saloon’s versatility – 19 February 2020
Since arriving at Autocar, the S60 has spent most of its time shuttling to airports or on short local trips to and from my Hertfordshire home. It was enough to give a glimpse of its character, but I felt I needed an extended spell in the Volvo to really get under its skin, not to mention properly run in that turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. Fortunately, the opportunity to properly stretch soon arose when I needed to spend a few days away visiting family in Jersey.
The early morning drag south for the ferry from Poole certainly played to the S60’s strengths. With the kids snoozing in the back and the boot full to bursting, the sybaritic Swede soothed us all the way. For starters, the seats are superb, supporting in all the right places – the adjustable thigh support a real highlight. It’s quiet too, with little wind noise and the engine barely at tickover even at motorway speeds. And on good roads the ride is compliant, adaptive dampers helping you slip serenely along.
On Jersey there’s a blanket 40mph speed limit, which sounds frustrating until you realise that to drive much faster on the narrow and high-hedged roads would be lunacy. It certainly suited the laid-back Volvo, the buttery-smooth auto’s early upshifts and hushed engine’s low-speed muscle helping you settle into the more relaxed pace of local traffic.
Another incentive for taking it easy is that despite its ‘compact’ executive status, the Volvo only just squeezes between the dry stone walls and the white lines on most roads.
There are chances to be a little less circumspect, such as when powering up the stretch of road out of Bouley Bay that’s regularly closed off for hillclimb events. Here the Volvo confirmed earlier impressions that it’s precise, composed and grippy, but not a car that’s necessarily gagging for a good time. On the plus side, with more revolutions on its crankshaft, the forced-induction four is getting looser and more energetic. The T5 is a properly rapid device, particularly when overtaking opportunities arise.
Less impressive, away from motorways at least, is the ride. Early impressions had suggested that our Inscription, with its smaller wheels and adaptive dampers, would serve up some suppleness.
Yet while it’s better than R-Design machines, there’s still room for improvement. It’s over ragged surfaces (like you find on most of the UK’s – and Jersey’s – A- and B-roads) that it suffers most, the springs and dampers coming over all brittle, causing the car to patter over the surface rather than pummel it into submission. Over really bad stuff, there’s even some hollow bump-thump noise from the rear suspension. Not intrusive by any means, but loud enough for you to notice. And that’s in the dampers’ normal setting – switching to Sport makes it even more unyielding.
It’s a shame because the rest of this S60 is such a refreshing antidote to the normally thrusting ‘sportiness’ of cars in this class. For instance, the cabin is a masterclass in calming minimalism – just the thought of climbing aboard has my blood pressure dropping away. It’s well designed too, the touchscreen infotainment being one of the better systems for clarity and responsiveness, helping offset the fact that most of the car’s functions can only be accessed via the screen – although there is a good old-fashioned volume knob for the (very impressive) Bowers & Wilkins stereo.
There are other highlights too, such as the adaptive matrix LED headlights that never get wrong-footed by oncoming traffic, saving other drivers’ retinas by effectively masking them off from the impressive intensity of full beam.
Back on the mainland, the Volvo settled nicely into its familiar routine of hops to Heathrow and domestic duties. Yes, the tetchy ride still niggles and I’d like to see more than 30mpg overall (the best I’ve experienced so far is the 31.3mpg logged on the late night run back from Jersey), but in all other respects my initial warmth for the thoughtfully designed and easy-going S60 remains. It’s not necessarily better than the competition, but it is different – and for many that will be a good thing.
Sitting comfortably The seats are simply fantastic. Doesn’t matter how long you sit in them, you emerge at journey’s end ache-free.
Lens mucks up At this time of the year the reversing camera gets covered in crud quickly, making it pretty much useless.
Cruise control is smart, but gives you the choice – 29 January 2020
One of the most useful of the S60’s many features is the ability to switch between adaptive and passive cruise control. The former is perfect for slow traffic, but I prefer the latter on freer-flowing motorways, because it removes your right leg from a stress position. It’s smoother, too, because you never suffer that sudden braking when the sensors detect the rear of the vehicle you’re overtaking.
Welcoming the S60 T5 to the fleet – 22nd January 2020
Volvo’s recent renaissance is no longer news – we’re now as well versed in this Swedish success story as the decades-old musical export from the same country.
Yet much of the firm’s good fortune since being taken over by Chinese giant Geely can be attributed to its ever-expanding, and ever-popular, XC SUV line-up. Until now, the more traditional saloons and estates have taken a back seat. Which is where our S60 comes in.
The compact executive class might not be as fashionable as it once was but it’s still a lucrative place to be, and as recently as December last year the BMW 3 Series was a top-six seller in the UK. So there’s plenty of hay to be made for Volvo if the S60 is up to scratch. Still, it can’t do any worse than its ageing predecessor, which barely notched up 1000 sales in 2018.
So we’re going to spend an extended period of time finding out whether the handsome S60 has the talent to take a sizeable piece of the saloon car action. Sure, it may not be as sharp to drive as a 3 Series, but will some of Volvo’s traditional virtues of comfort, refinement and, well, just a general sense of well-being offset its less dynamic nature? In the process, we will be spending time with a number of variants, including the novel plug-in hybrid T8, but before that there’s this T5, which is expected to be the most popular choice among buyers.
So what exactly have we got? After initial concerns about the firmness of the ride in early R-Design models, we decided to go for a more modestly wheeled and softly suspended Inscription, which is essentially the luxuriously appointed flagship. However, well equipped or not, when you start to play with the online configurator it’s hard not to be tempted by, ahem, a few options.
As a result, our eye-catching Fusion Red metallic (£675) example has extras such as the £750 Active Four-C Chassis (that’s adaptive dampers to you and me) and the £1625 Intellisafe Pro system, which adds some automated driving tech such as adaptive cruise control and steering.
Elsewhere, there’s a £350 Winter Pack (heated steering wheel, windscreen and washer jets), plus heated rear seats (£200). A £375 reversing camera augments the standard sensors, while the £1100 retractable towbar has been added so we can use the family’s bike rack. Arguably the greatest indulgence is the addition of the Bowers & Wilkins hi-fi upgrade, complete with its 15 speakers and 1100W output, for an eye-watering (or should that be ear-bleeding?) £2500.
All in, the total is a – gulp – hefty £46,940. Yet before we could get to assess the fruits of profligacy, there was the small matter of getting our S60 built and shipped, which is no small feat when you consider that this car is manufactured in South Carolina rather than Sweden.
While we waited, Volvo gave us the chance to try out its larger S90 saloon. It’s been around a few years now, but it’s built on the same SPA scalable architecture, and in the T5 R-Design form tested it features the same 247bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox. It had been a while since I’d had a spin in the big saloon, but I was pleasantly surprised by both the performance from the engine and its refinement. It’s not a characterful unit to the ear, but in the S90 it’s muted and delivers effortless urge, particularly in the mid-range. However, as someone who remembers the Volvo 850, I still feel a pang of disappointment that these days anything with a T5 badge goes without the old car’s distinctive syncopated five-cylinder soundtrack.
Handling sparkle was in short supply in the S90, but it was at least composed, sure-footed and precise, although the trade-off was an underlying firmness to the R-Design’s stiffer suspension. That said, the beautifully executed interior was supremely quiet and the seats are among the most supportive there are. If the S60 can deliver these traits in a more compact and less pricey package, then Volvo could be onto a winner.
And certainly that’s what it feels like now the S60 has arrived. It was delivered with just 500-odd miles showing on its TFT display, so we’re still in the running-in period, but already there’s a sense that it has all of the larger car’s qualities but with an extra dollop of wieldiness and a larger helping of ride comfort. Even when gently worked, the engine is a lusty performer and nicely isolated, while the gearbox swaps between ratios with speedy smoothness. It looks great, too, with far tauter lines in the metal than you’d think, while the rear-end treatment is much more effective than that of the slightly blobby S90.
Yet it’s the interior that’s the real star, with its minimalist Scandi style and top-notch finish. The light cream leather and driftwood inlays only enhance the feeling of cool sophistication – although they’re not best suited to the on-the-go dietary habits of my two young children.
Crucially, the front seats keep you supported in all the right places. As an oasis of calm in an increasingly frenetic world, the Volvo takes some beating. It’s still very early days, but I sense the S60 and I are going to get along very well.
The minimal yet stylish interior makes the S60 pleasant and relaxing on the morning commute, but will this be a car you take out for weekend fun? Its German rivals aren’t short on driver appeal, so hopefully our time with the Volvo will show that it can deliver entertainment as well as Scandinavian good looks.
Volvo S60 T5 Inscription specification
Specs: Price New £39,185 Price as tested £46,940 OptionsBowers & Wilkins sound system £2500, Intellisafe Pro £1625, retractable towbar £1100, Active Four-C Chassis £750, Fusion Red metallic paint £675, rear parking camera £375, Winter Pack £350, heated rear seats £200, plastic load compartment mat £180
Test Data: Engine 4-cylinder, 1969cc, turbocharged petrol Power 247bhp at 5500rpm Torque 261lb ft at 1800-4800rpm Kerb weight 1686kg Top speed 145mph 0-62mph 6.5sec Fuel economy 35.3mpg CO2 155g/km Faults None Expenses None